Across Omni’s 12 golf resorts, guests can experience top-quality courses with impressive settings to match. But what does it take to maintain over 100 acres of exquisitely manicured turf? We sat down with Dr. Scott Abernathy, Corporate Director of Agronomy, and Ph.D. in Agronomy to learn more about the innovative techniques and attention to detail it takes to oversee Omni’s prestigious collection of golf courses. We found his dedication to golf course maintenance and player experience ensures Omni’s portfolio of golf courses remains worth the trip.
Golfer satisfaction starts with course maintenance, what does it take to produce a quality course?
It takes high-quality playing surfaces and attention to detail. We maintain over 100 acres of living turf like you would manage a racecar, constantly pushing it to its limits in order to drive the type of density, uniformity and firmness necessary for a great round of golf.
How can turf be “pushed to its limits”?
We mow some turfgrass down to 1/10 of an inch, which pushes plants close to their limit. On top of that, grasses experience additional stresses from weather, foot and cart traffic, disease and insects. At some point, if we allow multiple stresses to build, we can exceed the plant’s limits. The key is to not stack stresses or to unstack stresses as quickly as possible. Our programs are designed to identify the primary stresses at each property and then prevent or reduce them.
How do you monitor and overcome these natural stressors?
We pay close attention to what the plants are experiencing and how they are responding. Whenever possible, we rely on real-time data to drive our monitoring and decision-making processes. For example, at most properties, decisions on moisture, nutrients and other growing product requirements are made based on real-time data. Moisture meter data drives irrigation decision-making. Soil and routine tissue testing drives nutrient application decisions. These processes allow us to apply precisely the right amount of inputs which benefits the plant, player experience, the environment and our business.
It sounds like you’ve got to cover a lot of ground, how do you manage 21 courses?
I support, challenge and champion the properties. I do not manage them. Our courses are located in a number of different climate zones. A “one size fits all” agronomic approach will not work. I have systemized where possible but then I allow our experts in the field, the Superintendents or local Directors of Agronomy, to develop agronomic programs that target their specific situations. I have a great team. I’m proud to help them identify and overcome issues and drive player experience.
Some courses in Omni’s collection are over 100 years old. Do you have to maintain historic courses differently?
First, it’s an honor to be given the opportunity to support our historic properties. They are truly great courses with amazing histories. Regardless of age, I think it’s important that maintenance programs produce high-quality playing surfaces, protect how the course functions, and defend the integrity of the architect’s design. Therefore, my goals remain the same for new and historic courses. The older courses certainly have unique challenges, like antiquated irrigation systems and construction methodologies, that can require unique maintenance requirements. They are a fun challenge.
What about Omni’s newest courses? Can you tell us anything about the new courses at Omni PGA Frisco Resort?
Our new association with the PGA TOUR®, PGA of America and now our affiliation with PGA Frisco shows our commitment to the game of golf and championship level courses. From an agronomic standpoint, this is the first course I’ve been involved with from the ground up. The resort will be first-class. The PGA of America teaching facilities will be cutting edge. The courses will be truly special – no doubt bucket list items for all golfers. It’s been a pleasure working with the PGA of America and Gil Hanse and Beau Welling, two very gifted architects.
How did you get into this field?
I studied Biomedical Science at Texas A&M University with the plan to go on to medical school but changed my mind a semester before graduating. My sophomore year, I had taken an aptitude test that pointed to turfgrass management, likely because I enjoyed science, golf and the outdoors. At the time, I did not know what turfgrass management was and dismissed the notion. When I elected not to go to medical school, I started researching agronomy. Shortly thereafter, I started a master’s program under Dr. Richard White and then proceeded to earn a Ph. D.
So, how’s your golf game? Does understanding the turf make you a better player?
When you do what I do, you can’t not pay attention to the grass. Even when I walk around my neighborhood, I subconsciously look at other yards. When I’m on a course, I focus on things like ball roll characteristics, smoothness, firmness, slopes and bunker conditions. This type of intimate knowledge of course conditions does allow me to pick up differences easily. It helps me know how to play the shot. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help execute the shot.
Inquiring minds want to know, what does your lawn look like?
My yard? I pay someone to do my yard, and it’s not very good! Omni’s 21 golf courses, roughly 2100 acres of manicured turf is my passion and gets my time and energy. My half-acre at home doesn’t rank as high. With that said, I do really enjoy helping my coworkers when they stop by my office asking for advice for their yard.
So, what tips can you give that we can use to improve our lawns?
Obviously make sure your grass receives appropriate irrigation and sunlight. Once those are where they need to be, a more advanced mowing regimen can really drive plant density and quality. Early season, I would set my mowing heights towards the lower end of the acceptable range for your turf type. It is important that you understand and stay within the recommended mowing height range for your specific turfgrass species. I would then raise heights as stress load increases. Mowing frequencies should be determined by the 1/3 rule which states you should never remove more than 1/3 of the leaf area at any one time. Therefore, the lower your mowing height, the more often you will need to mow. It’s important to follow the 1/3 rule.
Do you have a favorite Omni course to play?
All of our courses are unique, have great stories and offer special experiences. Plus, they are all tied to awesome resorts. If I had to pick one course, I would go with the Cascades at The Omni Homestead Resort. It’s history, design and condition make it one of the best experiences in the country. Plus, the setting in the mountains makes it truly special.
If you could play any course in the world, which would it be?
Pretty simple answer – Augusta National. My second choice would be one of the prominent courses in Scotland or Ireland because of their history, impact on the game of golf and design characteristics.